According to a 2015 article in The Guardian, celebrity activism has become far more popular over the years. So popular, the article claims, that superstardom seems to require some sort of alignment with a cause or even an entire country in need. Celebrities are capable of shedding light on an issue previously forgotten; in many ways, a sole celebrity could be the catalyst for profound social change.
Yet, The Guardian explains that celebrities are perhaps the least effective at implementing tangible change, so if politicians are not listening, then the celebrities will have gained a whole lot of publicity for effectively no benefit to the cause they support. In fact, there is a real possibility of negative impact. According to The Guardian, celebrities like Ben Affleck and Nicole Richie supported Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which would ask U.S. companies to reveal whether or not they were using materials produced in conflict-ridden areas, otherwise known as “conflict materials.” While this seems like a beneficial use of their celebrity platforms, this act caused “tens of thousands” of miners to lose their jobs and forced them to look into illegal work. According to Alex de Waal, activism should be involved with “local people.” Collaboration and acknowledgment of local expertise is key in order to understand the nuances of a problem; money and a platform is not superior to experience.
In the wake of the horrific death of George Floyd, Jordan Coley of The New Yorker writes, “A #blacklivesmatter post of Jennifer Lopez’s Instagram page reaches an audience larger than those of most regional televised stations.” Coley’s truthful and I-need-to-read-that-again statement to shed light on the power of celebrity platforms reveals just how wise it is for superstars to involve themselves in activism and take responsibility for their influence. Yet, according to Coley, many have posted messages after the murder of George Floyd that do not necessarily seek to galvanize or make any tangible move to support bail funds or Floyd’s family, but rather are intended to make their own brands clear. During Black Out Tuesday, many mistakenly used the #blacklivesmatter hashtag and scrambled valuable information for activists and protesters. Their platforms are massive; this means celebrities can do great good if they use their social media for active engagement rather than brand-building.
While Taylor Swift released a powerful song “You Need to Calm Down,” in support of LGBTQIA+ rights, she would have to do far more with her platform to be considered a “gay icon.”